From BLACK BELT MAGAZINE, July, 1974: "Karate in Prison: Menace, or Means of Spiritual Survival?" by Anne Darling and James Perryman, p. 21:
Another ex-inmate says the first time he ever saw a karate technique was in Coxsacki, a New York prison, in 1948. "The different prisons had and still have their own fighting styles," he says. They were prison martial arts, not traditional styles. In fact, Kid Gavilan (world welterweight boxing champion, 1951-54) used a Coxsacki variation, and Floyd Patterson's peekaboo style was a Coxsacki variation, too. Because of limited space in prison, we learned wall-fighting techniques. Then a lot of former G.I.s in the joint had learned hand-to-hand combat - they came home, styled it, made it hip, and gave it soul."
Miguel "Miky" Pinero, while an inmate of Sing-Sing, wrote a play called "Short Eyes" about the killing of a sex offender in a house of detention. The play is now a smashing success at the Public Theater in New York. Pinero describes his introduction to prison martial arts: "The first thing I did in the joint was to check out the style and learn to fight with a home piece - somebody from my neighborhood on the streets. I learned the Woodbourne shuffle, an evasion technique that first was used in the joint at Woodbourne and got passed around. Then I learned wall-fighting, and somebody taught me the Comstock style.
The Comstock style, named for an upstate New York prison, involves what one inmate calls "the use of dirty fighting techniques." The object is to lure an opponent into thinking he is going to get a "fair one - then go for a quick, sneak kick to the ankle, kneecap, or family jewels."
(End of Black Belt article)
"Allah don't like ugly so I held back from bustin him
I passed the burn off, he caught me from the blind side
Tapped a nigga jaw, I shot my fifty-two style, and crazy raw..."
Album: The Great White Hype soundtrack
Song: "Who's the Champion"
RZA and Ghostface Killah..."
"Fifty-two cops can't withstand the 52 blocks
Unless they bust like 52 shots
I'm the has been that have not
Battle kids at Maxwell's house..."
Artist: Method Man and Redman
Song: "1, 2, 1, 2"
"Beat niggaz toothless, physically cut up like gooses
But with iron* on the sides thugs took no excuses
Therefore, your fifty-two handblocks was useless..."
Artist: GZA f/ Inspectah Deck, Life
Album: Liquid Swords
Song: "Cold World"
*The iron refers to a handgun, meaning with me carrying a gun, your fifty-two skills are of no use to you.
Also This guy Doug Century who did a story on 52 Hand Blocks in Details magazine wrote this about the style (very interesting)::
"I've talked to some prominent prizefighters such as Zab Judah and Bernard Hopkins who know of the technique, did several long interviews with Dennis Newsome, and John Sowett (sp.) who published the book Martial Arts around the World. Newsome is probably the most scientifically knowledgable about it -- he won't refer to it as a martial arts, but as a prison survival art. Much thanks for posting old Black Belt article: I never thought of Floyd Patterson's peekaboo stance, later picked up by Tyson, as being influenced by Jailhouse fighting, but it's very probable.
But primarily, my sources are "the real deal," that is street guys -- gangsters, robbers, thugs, if you will -- that I've known for several years in Brooklyn. One of you mentioned it being a primarily East New York/Brownsville phenom, which may be true, though I also know many guys in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy who were feared for it.
The main guy who showed it to me, the character Big K in my book, is currently incarcerated 3-6 years in Fishkill Correctional pen in upstate New York. His real (or "government" name, as they call it) is Darryl, but mostly he's known as Kawaun or Knowledge Born. Those of you who asked, he's in his early 30s, hugely fit -- 6'3 and 285, with a build like an NFL defensive lineman (Bruce Smith-type) very lean and powerful and quick.
I just saw K on the weekend in the visiting room of Fishkill and he was demonstrating some gangsta locks --one of the primary stances in 52 -- from his seat. (He could only have a visit in the "keeplock" area since he is has been sentenced to "The Box" that is solitary confinement for 30 days for supposedly hitting a corrections officer.) The gangsta locks are something Mike Tyson did a lot in his classic early knockout fights, against Trevor Berbick and Bonecrusher Smith etc.
The gangsta locks are a very fluid pattern of blocks that (how do I describe it?) look nothing like Asian arts, but more like a hypnotic dance mixed with the unfolding of a multi-bladed Swiss Army knife. Once you've seen it, you'll know that it could only be a "black" style -- as one guy said to me, it's like the street-basketball of an Allen Iverson -- fluid grace and in your face flash that comes only from a hard street background.
Now K just wrote me from prison with some insights about the 52, but he didn't answer all the questions yet that some of the members submitted to Stickgrappler. What he did say -- and this is to his credit -- is that he doesn't consider himself a "master" of the style. He definitely knows a bunch of moves, but all the real masters were older dudes who came up in the 70s when there was much more pride in streetfighting and when gunplay wasn't so common in Brooklyn streets. (Now every little 14 picks up a gun to blast anyone who disrespects him...)
I forwarded K a bunch of material from your forum, and things Dennis Newsome told me, and here is K's direct words from his letter:
Subject: RE: 52 Blocks insights (cont.)
Date: 23-May-01 | 11:59 AM
(cont.) "... So the 52 is making itself known again in this day and age, huh? I must say that Mr. Newsome is most proficient in this subject, what with his reference to its origin dating back to the 19th century slaves and all. And you say Mr. Newsome taught 'JHR' to Mel Gibson? Excellent! I was amazed at his comparing the 52 to capoeria, this blew me away, because the capoeria is a form of Yoruban dance to the Orishas (better known to you as santeria)... My friend, the 52 Blocks are as ancient now in New York State prisons as the standup, no-nonsense, no-ratting, no homo-loving, no-mercy, no-fuss, no-muss, no-guilt, hard-core gangsta prisoner. Prison has become a place inept of keeping the code of the true thug alive. Somewhere between Big Rique [that's K's older brother, a tough-as-nails street fighter who died in 1999 after 10 years in Clinton State Prison], Duffy, His-Herb, Tommy, Iz-Ante, G-Man and the rest of the people who have made gangsta-ism gangsta. The moral fiber of prison honor, grace and poise (if ever there was such) has been lost. As such, too, our most insidious art of war: the 52."
As you can tell -- classic "incarcerated scarface" style -- K's got a penchant for throwing around big words where little ones would suffice; but what he's saying is that the 52 is a dead or dying art. Of the various guys he mentioned, I know Duffy and I'm interviewing Tommy aka Tom Roof -- for the article on Friday. They were all part of a notorious robbery crew in the late 70s known as the Ave Ave Crew (based on Washington Avenue and St. John's Place in Brooklyn.)
Duffy is without doubt the most feared 52 fighter I ever encountered. K for example, as bad as he is with his fists, would NEVER fight him one on one. If anyone read my book, I chose to call him Razor (don't want to get myself killed! The guy was actively on a robbery spree the summer I met him); he's a career criminal armed robber, and now is back in maximum-security prison now for another armed robbery. A visual -- Duffy is about 5'11, 220 lbs, dreadlocks, about Mike Tyson's size, but much more ripped and evil looking if you can imagine. He's 39 years old now. People who really know the streets have told me that in a no-holds barred streetfight between Duffy and Tyson (back when Tyson was a mugger and streetfighter in the '70s) they would NOT bet against Duffy.
That's my final word to you guys to consider about this stuff in relation to other martial arts. Dennis Newsome is the exception to the rule here -- he's a law abiding, professional type who really mastered and studied this stuff. Most others are straight-up vicious street "criminals" or "predators" (most have definitely taken another man's life during their life of crime, whether they were convicted of it or not.) They've grown up in some of the toughest 'hoods in America, and learned some of the "dirtiest" fighting styles in the nastiest correctional facilities where (as everyone knows) it's not the Mafia but the ruthless black street hoods who really run the prison population ... Nail gouging to the eyes...elbows to throat... sneak attacks to the testicles. As you know, anything goes in a street or prison fight. Newsome told me that he's faught black guys who were black belts in all different Asian styles (wing chun, Akido, etc) and whipped butt, but the only guy who beat him was a better practitioner of 52-- the guy threw a little-flick punch with first-and-second fingers snapping into the eye socket and Newsome said it felt like his eye was exploding back into his brain.
If you guys are interested I'll post more later....